Parshat Bo: Moving on After the Plague.
“Tovala, come, sit on Zaidy’s lap” my grandfather said. I slowly walked around the table towards him and as I passed my mother’s chair I whispered to her, “Mommy, I don’t want to, please don’t make me sit on his lap” Her response was a quiet plea, just go…. just cooperate. And so, like the “good” girl I was, I followed orders.
He placed me on his left knee and tucked my legs under the table cloth. His hand rested on my knee as he started his d’var torah: “The significance of the word BO…”
As his sermon preceded so did his acts of sexual abuse. The double layered tablecloth, a sign of extra zealousness for Shabbos protected him… its opacity covering the lower part of our bodies.
I looked at my mother, hoping she’d look back at me and save me from this torture. She couldn’t see. Her eyes were glazed over, her vision clouded with depression.
I looked at my father: pleeeeease Abba, please, take me away from him I thought. He couldn’t see me either. He was too enthralled in the “talmud chachum’s” amazing d’var torah: “The gematria of bet and alef….”
But my 11 year old uncle, he saw. He saw and watched in amazement. Like a boy watching his father build a toy airplane.
Although I didn’t know the words to match the emotions and actions at the time, I knew in gut that molestation, and all the disfunctinality it feeds, was a legacy from my mother’s family that I would play a role in, whether I wanted to or not.
My grandfather: The abuser and teacher
My grandmother: The accomplice
My uncle: The student (who would one day out-do his teacher)
My father: The obedient follower
My mother: The victim
Me: The object.
And my role? My role was compliance: Compliance and silence.
This incident was not the “worst” of the sexual abuse I endured. Far from it actually. I’d label it as tame when compared to what I would be put through by my uncle in later years. But it’s this Shabbos, Shabbos Bo, that is marked as a weekend of hell for me for the past 20 + years. And the reason is this: This is the Shabbos that I learned to be quiet. To allow it to happen. To accept that the people whose job it was to protect me, would allow it to happen. And that I, as a six year old, could not stop it.
This was my Parshat BO, the parsha that signifies the last and worst of the plagues for the Egyptians. The parsha that signifies the start of a lifelong plague for me.
Locusts: The start of locust is described as a moment when swarms of locust covered the sun and devoured everything green that was still remaining in the land of Egypt. I can’t think of a more fitting description of the moment a child’s sexual boundaries are broken.
Darkness: A darkness like no other, thick and impenetrable extinguishing all light and gripping it’s victims in fear. For anyone who has suffered the darkness of depression can easily relate.
Death of the First-Born: Described as a loud and bitter wail in each house as a loved one was fatally stricken and put to death. If only. Unfortunately the fatality that struck me and so many others is still waiting to be wailed out loudly.
In my journey to find a voice to wail in pain and be honest about my sexual abuse, I have found that people usually fall into one of three categories:
The ones that don’t believe: Ironically many of these are my mother’s family members who have experienced the abuse themselves. They say I was confused or that he was confused. That I shouldn’t ruin his life by talking about this.
To them I respond: the only confusing thing about this is how you continue to close your eyes and allow him to continue hurting more and more children.
The ones who know this abuse to be true without a question of doubt, but want me to “just move on” to “just let it go”. They want me to do this by shutting up! They want to bury their pain and my talking about mine makes it harder for them to do so.
To them I respond: you can’t “just move on” from an abuse so devastating by “letting it go”. The only way to move on and heal is to talk about it. Talk about it until it no longer scares you to say it out loud. Silence the fear and give voice to the healing.
And then there are the handful of brave supporters. They know this abuse to be real, true and continuous. They give me the encouragement and strength to continue my uphill battle to heal within myself. I am proud to say that my mother is one of these people. She somehow found the strength to change her role and in turn has changed the role that me, my siblings and our children play.
Unfortunately she was not joined in her bravery by her siblings. There are nine siblings in her family, including her. Many of them have over 6 children in their families, some as many as 13. These children have children and the cycle continues. I have over one hundred cousins that are still playing their part in this sick show called “yichus”.
My grandfather died in 2012, but his legacy of pedophilia lives on in his sons.
My uncle, a wealthy man in an ultra-orthodox community, is considered an upstanding citizen and a ba’al tzedaka. The fact that he molested my mother and her siblings for many years is not something my extended family wants to face. They would prefer to risk their children and grandchildren’s sexual and emotional health rather than risk a ‘good shidduch”.
The uncle that molested is gabbi to a prominent rabbi in his community. My very own cousin that admitted to being molested by him lives not far from him with her husband and children. Although she may not realize it, her silence is giving him the opportunity to use his prominent position in the community to feed on.
Writing this now, as a 33 year old with children of my own, I feel fear. I am fighting every bone in my body not to run to their schools, take them home and never allow them contact with the world. A world that continues to cover up the sickening sexual sins of rabbis, gabbis and upstanding citizens of society. And yet, I know that acting on that impulse and living in isolation and fear of the world around us would harm them in another way.
So I follow the “rules” of “good parenting” as best I can. I take the prescribed preventative measures. I talk to them about their bodies, healthy boundaries and teach them to express those boundaries clearly. I interact with them on the level they are each at in the hopes that it will let them know that they are safe telling me anything, even if it is something that is hard to say or hear. There are no punishments for talking, no matter the subject. I arm them with knowledge, self-awareness and a safe place for their voice, but still the fear remains.
There is a haunting reality to this world that I cannot healthily escape and so 12 years ago I decided that if I had to live in this world, I would LIVE in it. And so I go on living each day in a less than perfect world. Some days I thrive, some days I live and some days I survive, but no matter what I go on. One foot in front of the other, day in and day out. I dream of a time when I will NEVER AGAIN be tormented for or by my childhood. And although the days are few and far between, there are days when I actually believe I might get there.